The rise of Isis has raised the threat of terror in the UK and led to a summer of negative headlines about Islam – even pushing leading British imams to call for a fatwa prohibiting Muslims from joining the terror group.
But in a field in Hampshire on Sunday, more than 30,000 Muslims gathered to celebrate a very different face of their religion.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, whose motto is “love for all, hatred for none”, gathered in a specially created tented village for the largest Muslim convention in Britain. Their message was simple: peace, not jihad, is the true meaning of Islam.
Sunday was the final day of the Jalsa Salana (annual convention in Urdu). The three day event attracted Muslims from more than 80 countries around the world, who met to reaffirm their commitment to Ahmadi ideals of non-violence, neighbourliness and charity.
Jamal Akbar, 34, was among those volunteering at the event. He works in investment banking IT and coordinates Ahmadiyya charity programmes in his spare time. “I am very frustrated at other Muslims who portray this negative view of Islam because it’s not Islam they’re portraying,” he said.
“There’s so much love and peace in the atmosphere here ... I hope non-Muslims and Muslims alike will see the message that we’re portraying, that this is what Islam is all about.”
The current leader, or caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, led tens of thousands of worshippers in Sunday’s pledge ceremony. Known as Bai’at, it involves followers pledging to keep to 10 main promises of the faith, including to pray regularly, not be overtaken by extremes of passion and be humble and cheerful. The proceedings were transmitted to a potential audience of 80 million Muslims worldwide.
Preaching earlier in the weekend, he said: “Terrorists who seek to justify their hateful acts in Islam’s name can only be condemned. They are motivated by a selfish desire to fulfil their own personal interests and ambitions ... ignorant of the true teachings of Islam – of peace and tolerance.”
Ahmadiyya Muslims are not accepted in some countries, which is part of the reason the annual international convention is held in the UK and attracts so many worshippers from overseas. In Pakistan, for example, Ahmadis are a persecuted minority and the state refuses to acknowledge them as Muslims because they do not recognise Muhammad as the final prophet.